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Burning Hundred Dollar Bills

In 1997, I was briefly assigned to a massive software development project as a consultant.

It was a horrible mess.

Of course, before joining the project, I had to sign all kinds of non-disclosure documents, and I'm not supposed to say anything about the project. So I won't name the company. I'll just say that it was a really, really large telecommunications company.

But I can't resist mentioning a few of the more outrageous examples of madness. If you're ever involved in a project, and you see these same things... run. Run away.

First of all, the project was huge. There were, I'm told, more than 200 developers. And they didn't ramp up. They just brought all of them in at once. Project management? None here, thank you. During one of the design meetings, one of the group leaders mentioned something about getting specs to the GUI design team. "They don't have the specs already?" someone asked.

"No," he replied.

"Well, what are they doing right now??"

His reply summed up the essence of the whole project. He shrugged. "They are burning hundred dollar bills at their desks."

It was incredible. Every managerial sin you could think of was in evidence here: incompetence, nepotism, favortism... This company had an enormous corporate headquarters, fifteen miles away from where most of the team was working. But it was deemed too crowded at the headquarters, so they'd rented space at another office building. But that was crowded, too, so when they needed space for a meeting, they'd drag entire teams to the hotel next door, rent a conference room, buy everyone food, and have their meeting there. Wanna add up the bill for that??

I was told that the bill for the project - which had dragged on for more than a year before someone had the good sense to put a bullet in it - was somewhere around $40 million.

I was one of the last people hired, and by chance I was one of the last let go; I was given the task of archiving source code and documents for one of the teams. It took us about one day of the two weeks alloted for the task. But we still had to show up. One of my lasting memories was playing paper football with one of the VB guys, getting up now and then to wander around among the empty cubicles.

And what did they get for their $40 million? Nothing. All of it had to be scrapped. As for me, I did create one nice little memo...